Meet the Ob/Gyn: Uterine Fibroids
Before I started in medicine, I worked as a chemical engineer. I really enjoyed solving problems, but I realized I enjoyed working with people more. After a few years, I went back to school to become a doctor, and eventually specialized in obstetrics and gynecology. For about 30 years, I’ve been helping women manage their health as an Ob/Gyn–focusing in particular on cervical cancer screenings and the treatment of uterine fibroids. After three decades in the field, I’ve witnessed a huge evolution in the techniques and technology we use to help women stay healthy. Today, we can offer women minimally invasive surgical therapies and alternatives to major surgery–a tremendous shift from where we were in my first days of medical school. These advancements have shaped how we treat uterine fibroids, among many other gynecological concerns, and providing patients with effective treatment strategies that improve their quality of life is one of the most rewarding parts of my job.
Uterine fibroids are typically noncancerous tumors that grow in the muscle tissue of the uterus. They are usually spherical and can range in scale, from the size of a pea to the size of a large grapefruit or even bigger. The symptoms they cause can vary widely as well. About half of Caucasian women and 70% of African-American women in the U.S. between the age of 35 and 50 have uterine fibroids. Many women with fibroids don’t have any problems, although 25% of women will suffer symptoms, such as heavy vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain and pressure, and/or urinary frequency. Symptoms are usually related to the size and location of fibroids. If they get large enough, they can start to press on surrounding organs, like your bladder and bowel, which can cause significant concerns.
The most common symptoms of uterine fibroids are heavy menstrual bleeding and pelvic pressure that can manifest as frequent urination. With heavy bleeding also comes greater pain and cramping. These symptoms can interfere with a woman’s quality of life and ability to go about her day-to-day routine, but they can also cause serious complications that must be addressed. Heavy bleeding can lead to anemia, which can cause a woman to feel faint, weak, and fatigued. If not treated, she can become severely ill and may even require a blood transfusion. My goal as a physician is to prevent the situation from reaching that point by addressing each woman’s unique symptoms as early and as effectively as possible. Fortunately, we have a wide variety of treatment options, from medication to surgery to interventional radiological procedures. Whereas in the past, hysterectomy was commonly used to treat fibroids, today we have many more methods available that can maintain your fertility. If your heavy menstrual bleeding and pain are impacting your quality of life, there’s no reason to settle–we can help you manage your condition and find relief.
Obstetrics and gynecology is the medical specialty dedicated to women’s health. It’s a very broad sector of medicine that covers what women need throughout their entire lives. Some Ob/Gyn doctors focus on obstetrics alone–managing the care of pregnant women before, during, and after birth. Some focus specifically on gynecology, which involves the care of women with problems associated with their reproductive organs. All Ob/Gyns are trained in both aspects of the field. However, for patients with uterine fibroids, I recommend looking for an Ob/Gyn with experience in the multiple medical and surgical methods of treating fibroids. Fibroids are highly variable in their physical presentation and in the symptoms they cause; what works for one patient might not work for another. That’s why it’s important to find a physician with lots of experience with your specific condition, who listens carefully to your descriptions of your symptoms, and who is willing to individualize your care based on how fibroids are affecting your life.